Devil’s Dash -first ‘team’ cross-country race since college!

I ran my first cross-country race with a team since college last weekend!!!

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Check out those matching singlets!

Oookay, so we were only a team of *two* and weren’t running for a score, but it was still amazing to have a teammate out there on the course and have someone with which to excitedly discuss the just-completed race. An added bonus – my teammate coaches high school, so we spent our cool down sprinting back and forth on the course cheering for her team as they covered the terrain we’d just raced through.

The race itself was also a blast, although a bit rougher than my last race. We were running in the coaches/citizens/middle schoolers race so everything from bib pickup to the actual start time communications was a little sketchy due to the real meet emphasis being the large high school races. However, we all made it to the starting line decently warmed up, where I met up with my Volee teammate for some pre-race chitchat and strides. We found ourselves surrounded by a surprisingly large crowd of uniformed, nervous middle schoolers and tough coaches and open runners. We both squeezed into the 2nd row of starters after our last couple strides and got ready to take off.

The starter raised his pistol, gave us the ‘ready’ command, squeezed the trigger………………and then lowered his arm with a laugh as the blank failed to go off. The crowd of nervous runners laughed back with a startled giggle as we all tried to settle our heart rates from their sudden, lurching increase that accompanied the anticipation of the brief mad dash that comes with every crowded race start. I still felt my heart pounding in my ears when the starter lifted his arm again, and, as a result, surged a bit too enthusiastically of the line when the gun did actually fire.

The first 100m were crowded and chaotic, with my teammate and I fighting not to get squashed in the mayhem. About 50m in the course began to funnel, and an older man and a younger boy who had sprinted ahead of me both suddenly slowed right as the course narrowed to double-track, causing me to veer back and forth in an adrenaline-fueled quest to get around them. I wasted a bit of energy dashing around them through the weeds, and came around them feeling rushed and heavy-legged. However, I now had a clear view of the leaders, and thought I’d have a better chance of holding a strong pace if I didn’t get stuck in the larger pack. I spent the rest of the first mile feeling like my legs were spinning almost out-of-control, and like my breathing was on the edge of hyperventilation. Negativity threatened to drown my race from the very start, but luckily I have plenty of experience feeling like crud through the start of races and I was able to tune out my brain’s anxious chatter about the heavy legs and already suffering lungs. I later found out I came through the first mile about 15 seconds faster than my average pace, and much quicker than anything I’ve been doing in training.

In the second mile I paid for my over-enthusiastic start, slowing by almost 40 seconds/mile and just struggling through with the hope that I would eventually catch one of the runners ahead of me. It wasn’t the best of times but it was great practice in staying tough when everything seems to be going horribly. The opportunity to cheer on my close-behind teammate on a hairpin turn helped too, reminding me that we were at least in this horrible, painful business together!

Eventually the slower pace settled my breathing and brought some pop back into my legs, and I realized going into the third mile that I was within shot of the 2nd place woman*, a very fit looking runner who’d I’d noted on the starting line. I started picking off middle schoolers ahead of me (sorry boys) and eventually got on 2nd place’s back. I was still hurting but convinced myself to push past her strongly, hoping she’d be convinced enough of my effortless advance that she wouldn’t also pick it up and force me to reeeaaaally work for it. She was hurting badly and let me pass without much fight. I was embarrassingly pleased by this – I was also hurting badly and sure didn’t want to have to repeat the strong-pass-attempt performance!

We finally hit 1k to go and I managed to pick it up just a little more for a strong push into the finish. Just as in the 6k the week prior I could’t pull a kick out of my legs**, but I managed to at least hold pace through the line before stumbling through the chute in a state of nauseated fatigue. As I limped out of the chute I remembered that my teammate hadn’t been far being, so shuffle-jogged back around the finish to cheer her in. She arrived shortly, and we both spent the next 10 minutes trying to fake smiles and pep as her nervous high school athletes quizzed us on the course and asked why we looked so spent from the mild, mostly-flat terrain. “What, no, we feel great!” we chirped as we tried not to puke.

She and I parted ways as she went to prep her athletes, and then joined back up for some fairly challenging cool down work that involved repeated bouts of sprinting followed by cheering. The high schoolers raced amazingly and it was inspiring watching them work together over the hot, rough fields, faces showing the same freshly familiar race strain that my teammate and I had just experienced. It was amazing to have the chance to race and then turn right around to give back to the next generation of cross-country runners with cheers and encouragement.

Here’s to hoping those kids will stay joyfully passionate about the sport and end up as older, but still enthusiastic, racing fools like us!

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*We both got beat by a middle schooler. She broke 20 minutes which is *ridiculously* good for a middle school girl at 6000 feet elevation!

**I know, I know I need to start adding more strides and maybe some little spurts at the end of workouts. But this end-of-race kick used to come so naturally and I keep forgetting it’s gone until that last 100m when I go to shift gears and just…can’t! A little frustrating…

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Team

Guess what I finally got in the mail! My Oiselle Voleé singlet! I’ve been (impatiently) awaiting it’s arrival since the original team membership order this Spring, and had almost given up hope on its arrival after the original order was lost by the USPS forwarding office. However, it finally made its way to me and I am thrilled that I’ll be able to officially represent the team next time I race!

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Why am I so excited to join this team? After all, I’ve seen a few criticisms about the newest form of the team, including the comments that it’s too big, too impersonal, or is a trick to get people to pay to advertise the company’s clothing. From what I know the original team was much smaller and had a few more perks, so in comparison the newer team set-up, with many more members, a focus on online rather than face-to-face interaction, and a membership fee rather than exclusively free perks.

I did consider these cons when applying, and decided I still had many reasons to be enthusiastic about the joining the team. Individual enthusiasm for this form of team may vary, but here’s what has me excited to fly with the Voleé:

  1. Virtual/wide-spread team isn’t  really a negative for me. Sure, I’d love to have people to train with on a regular basis, but I also enjoy the ability to run at whatever time I need to on a given day, and the freedom to modify my training plan and running routes on the fly. My recent experiences with friends in creating virtual teams for encouragement and accountability with training has shown me that being surrounded by team, even if you’re not actually training physically together, is still valuable to staying positive and motivated during the rough patches of training, and being encouraged to celebrate each small success during better times.
  2. I’ve observed great team cohesiveness with all the Voleé that I’ve met in person and online, and I am also ok with not personally knowing every single member of the team. I’d love to meet all the women in my state section of the team, and will definitely seek out teammates to run with/cheer with when I travel out of state. The lack of exclusivity isn’t a problem for me – with a larger team that just means more likelihood of finding women to run with.
  3. The purpose of the membership fee and the benefits that go along with it were clear and seemed reasonable to me. The fee included a singlet and spike bag, membership to the team forums and newsletters, a discounted pair of shorts/tights, free shipping, special team-only sales or early access to sales/items, and a donation to the developing athletes fund. Some of these definitely encourage more clothing purchases, but honestly, anyone joining the team probably already likes Oiselle’s clothing so isn’t suffering too much from the purchase-related perks. I’m honestly ecstatic to have a team singlet that isn’t huge/stinky/required to be turned back in at the end of the season (as I did in every school xc and track program), and can’t wait to use the discount on some pricy tights this winter which I probably wouldn’t be able to buy otherwise (ah, the good Colorado winters…tights wear out quickly up here). Being able to contribute to the emerging athlete fund is extremely valuable to me as I have several friends who are currently in that category, one of whom runs for Oiselle. In my current financial circumstances (i.e., not grad school) I’d actually give more to the fund if that was an option.

I’ve already met 3 teammates in person, and look forward to meeting more as I watch for matching singlets at races (should be easy to spot with the snazzy, eye-catching design!). I’ll admit the singlet also brings with it dreams of open meet cross-country teams, relays, and feeling at least sort-of legit if I end up lining up for any track races next Spring/Summer.

Sure, one doesn’t need an official team to do these things, but I’m excited to move forward with a supportive, enthusiastic team of athletes to call on when I need a boost during a busy, exhausting week, a group to cheer with, or a singlet to run beside in a challenging race.

#headupwingsout

XTERRA Beaver Creek 10(ish…)k trail run race report

The Strava split summary actually sums up last weekend’s XTERRA trail race pretty well:

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I spent the day before cheering on a coworker who also happens to be a *awesome* triathlete (she placed top 5 in the pro division! Wootwoot!) and generally getting really nervous and pumped up as I watched the triathletes race the same course I’d be running the next day.

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Goooooo imaging research team! (Also, this is literally the flattest 100m of the course)

The next day I woke up nervous but excited, knowing I had a tough course ahead of me. I slapped on a Oiselle temporary tattoo since I was still waiting on my singlet (dang post-office forwarding lost it somehow), my favorite DIY singlet and short-shorts, and took off up the ski hill to warm up. The trail run portion of the event included 3 races: 20k, 10k, and 5k so I got to watch the 20kers take off about 10 minutes before my start time. They took off to a canon shot – talk about an adrenaline rush!

I arrived at the start line much more amped up than I’ve been for any of my previous summer races, perhaps due to the little added pressure of having a teammate of sorts (my coworker) at the race cheering for me, and hoping to live up to the trend that she started with her awesome race the day before. We didn’t get a canon, instead starting to a horn, but I still shot off the line like I was starting a track race, quickly ending up in 2nd behind the lead man.

Luckily I managed to calm down and drifted back a few spots, trying to hold a pace that wouldn’t put me deeply in debt when I hit the first big climb. I expected another woman to come up behind me during the whole first mile but instead held my spot as the first woman going into the 2nd mile and the first climb. Based on advice from some fellow trail runners and the triathletes from the day before I tried alternating power walking on the steep curves and running the straights of the winding switchback section. The grade jumps sharply at each turn, and walking at least felt more efficient. It also kept my breathing under control and kept the screaming in my legs to a dull roar, even as I stayed on the tail of the man in front of me. I found out after that I’d PR’d on the section by 5 seconds, so maybe there was something to the run-walk strategy!

After the first climb we had about a mile of steep but runnable downhill down a dirt road and onto some mellow single track. I was still in first and hadn’t seen any women close behind…was I actually going to hold onto this?!? I headed into the second climb feeling confident and strong from the long downhill recovery.

The second climb was ROUGH. The shock of switching from effortless downhill speed to the grinding exhaustion of more uphill running shook me mentally, making me wonder if I’d gone out way too aggressively. I started to fear that I’d falter so hard that I’d lose my lead and end up wimping myself out of a top 3 finish. I walked on a few sections much milder than the earlier switchbacks, but just couldn’t get any spring back in my step.

The happy surprise of an aid station and the resulting gift of cold, glorious water brought me out of my little pit of grumpiness and I managed to get back in sight of the guy in front of me on the final small climb. Unfortunately, right as I was starting to feel good again I realized my calf was sending regular twinges up my leg. I prayed it wouldn’t cramp and kept my eyes scanning for the calf-saving downhill that I knew was coming up soon.

Thankfully, my calf held off and I was able to enjoy the gorgeous wildflower views as I flew down the winding single track down off the mountain and towards the downhill dirt-road finish.

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I happily ran through the finish, grateful that I had somehow managed to stay in first (!) and that my calf had managed to hold together over the last mile. I hadn’t had the best race mentally, but had paced well in the first half and had then pushed through the miserable section well enough to hold my position, and had even been able to regain enough zip to actually enjoy the last section. The course was a blast apart from the tough second climb, and the opportunity to spend an entire weekend cheering and racing with a  friend was absolutely amazing.

Once I caught my breath my friend and I headed to the foam roller tent for a thorough, painful roll, grabbed some food, and then went on a 6 mile hike…because what better post-race cool down than a fun hike and a natural ice bath??

Hurrah for race weekends with friends and gorgeous, tough trail courses!

 

Race report: LaSportiva Boneyard Boogie 11k trail race

Saturday’s race started off tough a few weeks ago when I previewed the course and apparently overextended myself to the point of becoming ill. I tried to shake off the less-than-great impression of the course, but still felt some lingering dread even through Friday’s (heavy-legged) shakeout run. I knew the course was exceptionally tough, and I feared that my relatively low endurance level would turn the majority of the race into a heavy-legged slog.

Luckily, I received two unexpected confidence boosters for this race that stemmed from my decision to join the Oiselle Volee. First, upon arriving home on tired, achy legs and feet on Friday night I discovered a mysterious brown envelope that turned out to be the Oiselle Volee welcome mailer! I immediately added the enclosed ‘I run for Oiselle’ sticker to my water bottle sticker collection and savored the cheerful surprise while downing some pasta and spending some quality time with my foam roller.

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On race morning I received another needed boost in the form of a Oiselle singlet flashing by during my warmup. I ended up stretching next to the singlet’s wearer (Rachel) and asked if she was with the local Oiselle group. It turned out she was from a few towns West and was returning to the trail series after a year or so off for a back injury. We happily chatted as we walked to the start and lined up together on the line. As the wave of racers took off onto the short dirt road stretch before the single track I tucked in behind her and we climbed the first hill together. The feeling of having a teammate and a singlet to keep an eye on in the crowd of runners brought me back to my high school and college days and provided reassurance during the heart-pounding uphill sprint to the single track.

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The quick course narrowing meant spending time in trains, trailing slower runners and then sprinting past groups of 1 or 2 on the turns or slightly wider sections. I was fortunate to be in almost exactly the same shape as my new-found teammate, and we spent the first 1.5 miles within a few runners, alternating between settling in and popping out wide to surge ahead in the line of runners.

At around the 1.5 mile mark I felt good and pushed ahead a bit, passing Rachel and another woman. I kept climbing, feeling pretty good until 2.5 miles. After 2.5 things started to get tough since we’d been climbing steadily since the start and it was beginning to warm up as the sun rose higher overhead. I focused on keeping the doubts quiet and impatiently looked for the 2nd aid station, which signaled the switch to downhill running.

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Up, up, up, doooooown

The 2nd aid station finally appeared out of the sagebrush and I happily grabbed some water, choked on it, and started my descent. I hadn’t gone more than half a mile when I heard two runners thundering down the windy, steep singletrack behind me, feet moving at least twice as fast as mine. I couldn’t match their speed so pulled to the side and let them pass. Happily, one was a buddy from running club and one was an extremely long-legged dude, so I didn’t feel too bad letting them wiz by at breakneck speed.

However, I really struggle with the downhill speed, especially on tired legs, and I was soon passed by another woman. The day had started to get truly hot and I was beginning to drag. Getting passed was discouraging, but luckily balanced out by the opportunity to pass several younger men/boys who had apparently gone wayyyy too hard in the first 3 miles. Around mile 5 I realized I only had 2 miles left and briefly pushed the pace. However, the heat and my own exhaustion fought back, and I paused briefly on the side of the trail as an unpleasant combination of despair in ever being done and hyperventilation overcame me. A woman’s voice from behind yelled ‘Are you ok?’ and snapped me out of my little pity party. I yelled back that I was fine and began running again to try to stay ahead of this concerned rival. We ran together over the last mile, with me focusing intently on matching her (much smoother) stride in an effort to stick with her.

With 400m left I knew I wasn’t going to catch her, so I just focused on pushing through the last (paved & flat, hallelujah!) little bit to keep anyone from sneaking by behind me.

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Pace/elevation profile. Windy trails do not make for steady running 😛

In the end, Rachel finished just 40 seconds back and we ended up placing 1-2 in our 20-29 age group. Go birds! I was happily surprised by the placing, and with my overall 8th place in the Women’s category, considering the relatively deep field of local ultra stars and serious trail racers. I finished in just under an hour – decent considering the course record of 51:08 and my complete inability to ride the downhill rather than clomping down it like an overly-cautious draft horse.

The after party was excellent (yogurt, pasta, salad, and a gear raffle) and any disappointment with my race (like the stopping and downhill struggle) was alleviated by the great atmosphere and post-race talk with the many friends from running and cycling club, plus my newly-met Volee teammate, who’d joined in the fun.

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The two lessons I took away from today’s race:

  1. Team helps soooo much. I’d almost forgotten this with all the decent runs alone lately, but it really does help to have the moral support and team mentality mid-race.
  2. I am in desperate need of some downhill form work and downhill strides to help with my speed. It’s free velocity so I really shouldn’t turn it down.

No, I didn’t just join for the snazzy singlet (although they are AMAZING)

About 5 months ago in mid-December, as snow piled up outside and I tried my best to tune out the cold basement air and whirring of my bike tire against the trainer drive, I balanced my phone on the handlebars of my bike and watched the green grass and tan sand of a sunny cross-country course become obscured by a flowing river of brightly dressed runners on the Oiselle Periscope broadcast of the USATF Club XC Nationals women’s race. In contrast to the later official post-race broadcast by USATF TV, this view of the race was bumpy, loud, and chaotic, immersing me in the XC atmosphere on the sidelines and pulling me along as the video stream recorded the frantic cheering-spot-to-cheering-spot sprints that are unique to XC. The cheering around the recording phone increased with each passing Oiselle runner and I found myself smiling, remembering the excitement of running around on a warm-up or on aching post-race legs to cheer on the JV women’s squad or the men’s teams as a high-school and collegiate XC athlete. As I cross-trained alone in my chilly basement the brief vicarious feelings of team membership added to my growing desire to find some way to return to the team atmosphere in my running life.

5 months later and I am now a member of that same team that I enjoyed a live-stream based comradery with while watching that XC race. I had been looking for a way to return to the comradery and extra motivation provided by being a member of a team since a few months after my undergraduate graduation, and that shaky live-stream view of the competing Oiselle teams and supporting cheers reminded me of exactly what I missed about being on a team. When the Oiselle Volée started hinting at a potential new batch of team memberships this Spring I began seriously considering the idea of joining the team.

I had also looked at some other team options this winter, including racing for a team back in my home town that a former teammate runs for, trying to create a team with some other post-collegiate running friends, or just racing in my cycling club’s colors. However, the Volée had some additional aspects that appealed to me over these other possibilities.

Each of my options would provide a long-distance network of supportive and inspiring teammates and a jersey run in, but the Volée option had the added benefits of a much larger and wide-spread team, an established network of existing teammates and platforms for interacting with them online and in person, an association with a company that focuses on women’s running and female leadership, and the perks of free shipping and periodic special deals on running clothing line that combines beauty and function in a uniquely appealing way.

Lastly, by joining this team I had the opportunity to help support the professional division of the team, as 25% of the membership cost goes to supporting the Oiselle Emerging Athlete Fund. As someone with several former teammates who’ve gone pro (one of whom runs for Oiselle), and who cares strongly about the professional side of women’s competitive running, the ability to directly contribute even a small portion to helping developing professionals stay in the sport was incredibly appealing. Oiselle’s decision to use the team membership cost in part as a tool for supporting elite-level competitive female runners goes along with their history of a positive attitude towards competition and supporting the wider issues of fair play, athlete sponsorship that acknowledges athletes as whole people rather than purely numbers, and the balance between team/inclusion and fierce competitiveness.

I can’t wait to rejuvenate my own sense of team and competitiveness as I gain amazing new teammates to cheer with and for, local/regional runners to support, compete with, and learn from in-person, and an enormous virtual, world-wide cheering squad that I will have the privilege to represent every time I put on the Volée racing singlet.

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